Content Optimization: What It Means and How It’s Done

Use these strategies to reach your target audience with the content they’re looking for.

Optimizing Content Hero Illustration

You’ve started an online business, and you want to get the word out. But you don’t want to merely advertise to potential customers, and you might not have the budget for a press campaign. So how do you capture your target audience’s attention?

Content marketing offers an organic way to engage people who may be interested in your product or service. By providing content they’re interested in—like blog posts, infographics, images and videos, social media posts—they’ll discover what your business is all about and come back for more.

But publishing great content isn’t enough. You have to make sure the right people see that content. To do so, you have to optimize it.

Here’s a look at what content optimization means, why it’s important, how it’s done (with some quick tips and tricks), and what tools are available to help you.

What is content optimization?

Content optimization involves applying content marketing best practices to boost your ranking in search engines. It’s closely tied to your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.

Communicating what your content is about to search engines is at the core of optimization. Data you supply makes this possible. This data takes many forms, both “behind the scenes” and on your website’s pages. The following are all components of optimized content.

  • Keywords: These are the terms people search for online. When someone types words and phrases into a search bar, the results that come up are partially based on the keywords in the content of those websites. Understanding what keywords to include in your copy is a critical component of optimization.
  • Meta and title tags: Every webpage has metadata—data about data—embedded. This helps search engines understand what the page is about. Some of this information is what you see when a web page is displayed on the search engine results pages (SERPs), enticing readers to click through.
  • Headers and subheaders: Readers—and search engines—understand content better when it’s broken down into sections by headings and subheadings. Organized content also improves readability, which results in a better experience for your audience.
  • Alt text: If your content contains images, they need to be optimized with alt text. Alt text, or alternative text, describes the image. It’s also the text shown to users who are browsing with images off and, even more importantly, it’s read aloud for people using screen readers for accessibility purposes. Search engines use this image text to understand more about your content.
  • Backlinks: Every time a site that’s considered authoritative links to your content, it strengthens your content’s authority. It also provides context about your content to search engines, and that increases your reach.

Why is it important to optimize your content?

Developing a content optimization strategy is critical to your online success. Even high-quality content might not rank well in Google’s search results if it’s not optimized.

But when you optimize your content, you increase your chances of showing up on the first page of a search. This helps you build a larger audience.

Content optimization is not only key to boosting your ranking on SERPs, but it also helps you:

  • Earn links to your website. When other businesses find your content and it provides valuable information, they will naturally begin to link to your website as a source. This helps increase your website’s domain authority—which also boosts your search rankings.
  • Drive engagement with your brand. When you optimize your content, more people will discover and engage with your business. Valuable content helps you build a relationship with customers.
  • Increase lead generation. One of the biggest benefits of optimizing your content is that it can generate leads. Creating quality content that shows up in search results will lead potential customers to your website so that you can grow your audience and get more sales.
  • Position your business as an industry leader. Optimized content makes your brand look legitimate. The more often your website shows up in the search results, the more authority you gain, and that builds customer trust.

What are the fundamentals of optimizing content?

As you build a content optimization strategy, you’ll want to begin with the basics. There are 3 fundamentals you’ll want to keep in mind, whether you’re optimizing new or existing content.

1. Make it easy for search engines to understand what your content is about

One of the first goals of optimizing your content should be to make sure that Google and other search engines can decipher what your content is about.

This starts with the structure of your content. Think through the flow of each piece: Are you using headings and subheadings and bulleted and numbered lists to break up the information?

It’s also important to incorporate keywords into your piece in a natural way. What words or phrases are associated with the topic you’re writing about? Keyword research will help you discover search terms you may not have thought of.

Avoid stuffing your post with keywords in an attempt to improve your rankings—the search engines are wise to this, and it can cause your content to be penalized.

2. Improve readability for your audience

Beyond ensuring that search engines understand what your content is about, you also want to focus on the readability of the piece.

If Google sends a reader to your page, how simple is it for them to understand? The quality of the writing, the reading ability required to comprehend it, and how easy it is to scan all affect your credibility.

3. Supply all the right data

While on-page content is a critical part of optimization, there are technical components to content optimization that exist behind the scenes.

These technical components include:

  • Title tag and meta description
  • Alt text for images
  • Headers and subheaders, such as H1s, H2s, and H3s, used in the correct order
  • Internal and external links through anchor text (where it makes sense)

11 steps to optimizing content

Optimizing content can seem complicated when you begin, but the steps below will simplify the process.

Content optimization checklist

  1. Start with keyword research. Identify keywords that are relevant to your business.
  2. Create a list of keywords and keep them handy during the writing process. If it feels overwhelming, start with one target keyword and a few variations.
  3. Create an outline for your content. Include key terms and ideas you want to cover for your audience.
  4. Begin writing, working to fit in keywords and related information naturally. Focus on providing your audience with relevant information, and it will be easy to include keywords that drive traffic to your site.
  5. Start your article with an H1 tag and break down the rest of the piece with hierarchical subheaders: H2s, H3s, and H4s. Be careful not to go too deep with subheaders, though; there’s only so far a reader’s attention can go.
  6. Go back through your content, editing for readability. When possible, use bulleted and numbered lists to break apart content.
  7. Where appropriate, add any external or internal links. Add links that will help readers learn more about a related topic.
  8. Add a meta description and title tag to each page. In some cases, you can do this manually in your content management system. In others, a programmer could automate the process.
  9. Add alt text to images. Be sure to use natural language as you describe each image.
  10. Finally, do one last check. In addition to keywords, alt text, metadata, and readability, make sure your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are impeccable. Have a colleague review the content—or hire a professional copy editor.
  11. Publish!

What are some tools that can help with content optimization?

The good news is that numerous content optimization tools are available on the market, and some of them are free. Consider using one or more of the following as you optimize your marketing content.

Google Search Console

One of the basic free tools that any content creator should use is Google Search Console. Its tools and reports help you measure your site’s search traffic and performance, fix issues, and optimize your content.

Using Search Analytics, you can see what queries and keywords bring users to your site and analyze your site’s impressions, clicks, and position on Google Search. You can also use Google Search Console to submit sitemaps and individual URLs for crawling.

For anyone just beginning the content optimization journey, this is a must-start place.


For those seeking a deeper dive into content optimization, Ahrefs is a great choice. Through its Site Explorer, you can actually compare your website against your competition. By entering your competitor’s website or blog URL into the tool, you can see what keywords their content ranks for. This helps you determine where your competition is outranking you and what keywords you might be missing out on.

Ahrefs also offers one of the most comprehensive keyword research tools on the market. Its Keyword Planner tool allows you to type in a specific keyword to learn about search volume, competition, and related keywords. This is a powerful tool that can help you design your strategy to optimize future content.

Hemingway Editor

While your content optimization has a lot to do with technical information, such as keywords and title tags, readability also affects optimization.

This is where Hemingway Editor comes into play. This online tool helps you improve your content’s readability by identifying errors and sentences that are difficult to read. Edit wordy sentences, use more common terms, and make your content more clear with this tool.

Additionally, the Hemingway Editor checks your content’s reading level. Most content should be kept around an 8th-grade level, depending on the topic and audience.

Mailchimp’s Content Optimizer

Much of content optimization applies to what you publish on your website, but it’s also important to optimize your other marketing efforts.

When it comes to getting your email content just right, Mailchimp removes the guesswork. By comparing your campaigns to email best practices, Mailchimp’s Content Optimizer offers suggestions to make your copy, imagery, and layout better with every email you send.

The Content Optimizer is a feature of Mailchimp’s email campaign reports. As soon as you send an email campaign through Mailchimp, you can see how it’s performing with a live report that includes click tracking, e-commerce tracking for connected online stores, bounces, unsubscribes, and more. But beyond this vital data, the Content Optimizer makes your next steps even more clear by analyzing your campaign content and making personalized recommendations for how to improve future emails.

Create valuable, visible content

Optimizing content is all about ensuring that your valuable content gets seen. If your content isn’t optimized, no matter how good it is, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential customers. But by focusing on the basics to optimize your content over time, you can increase your brand visibility and become a trusted source of information for your audience.

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